Anyone who has recently passed the Washington Monument—and that includes most of us who live here, plus another 25 million annual visitors to the Mall—can’t help but notice the almost daily progress of the scaffolding rising on the city’s most visible landmark. According to officials from the National Park Service, the scaffolding installation is more than halfway completed. In the next few weeks, weather permitting, the pyramidion at the top will be the final element. When it is topped off, workers will apply sheets of fabric from top to bottom, plus lights. The lights are cosmetic and will be turned on in June in a special lighting ceremony.
We got this timely update Thursday from two people in the know—Robert Vogel, the superintendent of the Mall, and Carol Johnson, who is with NPS—when we had a moment to talk with them at the annual luncheon of the Trust for the National Mall. It’s held on the grounds near the National Museum of American History, a spot where one can’t help but look up at the towering Monument, which has been closed since it was damaged in an earthquake in August 2011. Vogel and Johnson say the overall repair project is scheduled to be finished by this time next year, barring any unforeseen setbacks.
But first things first: the pyramidion. “Once they get to the pyramidion, from where it starts to angle in, it takes another two weeks to complete the scaffolding,” says Johnson. “That’s the most complex part of the scaffold.” Vogel says the top piece is the “most challenging part of the overall project, because the majority of the damage is at the pyramidion level.”
The stone masons won’t go up until the scaffold work is done, they say.
Vogel notes that “everyone is watching very closely,” which is a particular reason the NPS has endeavored to keep the public informed about details of the restoration. But, he also notes, “it’s a construction project like any other construction project, like on your house,” so start and finish dates are approximate.
The last time the monument was encased in scaffolding was during a restoration project that ran from 1989 to 2000. The conceptual, almost Christo-like look was a hit. In fact, some people suggested the scaffolding be kept up, but the Park Service nixed that idea, for reasons that shouldn’t need to be explained. As Vogel says, “After all, it’s the Washington Monument.”
Later, just before lunch was served to the almost 1,000 guests, Chip Akridge, chairman of the Trust for the National Mall, commented on the monument, calling it “the tallest stack of rocks in the world.” People laughed, but he wasn’t kidding. “There’s no mortar between those stones. It’s literally a pile of rocks.”
Caroline Cunningham, the group’s president, praised the individuals and organizations who have contributed millions of dollars in funds for the overall restoration of the Mall, including, as was announced at the luncheon, a $10 million gift from Volkswagen. “The restoration work is the largest capital improvement on the National Mall in 40 years,” she said, commending the dedication of interior secretary Ken Salazar. “I remember clearly his first official visit,” she said, as he stood by her on the stage. “The Park Service and Trust took him on a tour. After a few shocking sights—the front of the Jefferson Plaza sinking, broken sidewalks, and dead, rock-solid turf—he made the National Mall’s restoration his top priority.”
The luncheon is known as the “hat lunch,” because so many women, and some men, attend in their best millinery. Thursday was no exception.